Rain slashed hard against the glass windows, but inside the bar, a fire roared in the fireplace and warmed the whole room. A few patrons mingled around, chatting quietly or staring into their drinks. This was one of the few places near Vescent’s military base that allowed for a respite from wartime life.
It was with a sense of hurried distraction that Leta had shut off the lights, departed her quiet clinic (the last to leave) and then darted across the stone bridge in the rain. She was only outside for seconds, and she held a hood over her head and a scarf wrapped around her neck, but it was of no use: she couldn’t have been more wet if she’d jumped into the sea.
Breathlessly she slipped through the doors, shutting out a rain-soaked gust of wind behind her. She waved toward the bartender, who greeted her by name (Leta spent more time alone in this bar than she cared to admit) and then found Fiearius across the room.
He was seated on a stool, forearms leaning on the bar, a glass of beer between his hands. She noticed that the rain had an explosive effect on his unruly hair, and that the flames from the fireplace cast shadows across his rugged unshaven face. She walked closer, unwrapping her scarf from her neck.
“Sorry I’m late. The south bridge was closed, so I had to take the long way ’round … and there was gunfire near the harbor, so I had to backtrack, and then they couldn’t verify who I was, and I had to go through security protocols again. I couldn’t figure out why security was so tight tonight … but then I remembered we have a certain distinguished guest visiting,” she added, glancing at him.
Fiearius snorted into his beer. “Distinguished guest? You mean Kalli, right?”
Without hesitation Leta sat down, reached for Fiearius’ beer, drank deeply, then replaced the glass with a thud of wood on the bar. “So,” she said. “Tell me why you’re here.”
Fiearius frowned, as if she’d said something rude and surprising.
“Why you’re on Vescent,” she pressed, and then he shook his head, casting a worried eye around the room.
“Can’t. Not here.”
“What? What do you mean ‘not here’? You told me to meet you here.”
“Yeah, I invited you to a bar to have a drink and catch up.”
“But you implied–”
“You inferred,” he corrected with a glint in his eye that told her what she should have realized on her own: he’d done this entirely on purpose.
Rolling her eyes, Leta pushed herself to her feet and was about to walk away when Fiearius groaned and grabbed her forearm.
“C’mon,” he pleaded. “I’ll tell ya why I’m here, but stop being so impatient. Two days ago I had to lead a squad of troopers into a Society base only to run out of ammo in the first wave and stumble outta there without half my men. A week ago an IA agent tried to assassinate me in my sleep. This morning, half of the Span’s journalists flooded my inbox to ask me my opinion on an operation I wasn’t even involved in but supposedly was a massacre. And I’ve no doubt that your life lately has been equally surreal. I just want to not think about plans and missions and wars for once. Can we please just pretend that we’re normal people for half an hour? Fifteen minutes? I’m losing my damn mind.”
Leta glowered at him. Then, after several seconds, she dropped back into the barstool and couldn’t help but mutter, “An IA agent tried to assassinate you in your sleep?” with alarm in her voice. “Didn’t read about that one in the incident reports. Not that I keep tabs on you or anything,” she added, allowing amusement to briefly light her green eyes. It might’ve been a gesture of flirtation under normal circumstances, but it was more wry, irritated and confessional: she did read all incident reports about Fiearius Soliveré, of course she did, even though they were classified and supposed to be far from her reach. Worst of all, he probably knew she did. Their formal relationship had ended so many years ago, it was fragmented and broken beyond repair.
But old habits died hard, she supposed.
“Alright,” Leta sighed. “Fine.”
In a gesture of defeat, she lifted her hand toward the bartender and ordered a glass of whiskey.
“So you can’t tell me why you’re here,” she said, taking a sip that burned down her throat, “at least tell me how things are going on the Dionysian.”
At that, Fiearius’ expression lightened. “Not too bad actually. She’s been running beautifully. Funny how having the funds for regular maintenance makes such a difference.”
“So Richelle’s doing well as your engineer?”
“Don’t tell Cy, but I’m beginning to think she’s better at this than he is. Not the inventing part maybe, he’s still got claim on that. But I’ve never felt her run so smooth for so long. Plus the little runaway’s a hell of a lot less cranky when I ask her to do something.”
“Good for her. And how’s Javier?”
Fiearius rolled his eyes. “The pigeon? Annoying as ever.”
‘Pigeon’ was a nickname Javier had earned shortly after he’d become Fiearius’ (for lack of a better term) personal assistant. Fiearius called him pigeon because, much like a bird, he tended to “shit all over everything.”
Carthis had tried to give him a few cadets of their own for the position, but each effort had ended rather badly. Finally, to everyone’s surprise, Javier had volunteered for the job and, even more surprising, Fiearius had accepted. Four years later, she was still shocked no bloodshed had come from the situation.
“He takes notes when I stop paying attention and he talks to people I don’t want to though, so I guess that’s useful,” Fiearius added, a careless shrug lifting his shoulders. “The minute I mentioned we were headed here, he wouldn’t shut up about the blonde kid.”
“You mean Nikki,” Leta said, for about the hundredth time. She sipped her drink and added accusingly, “Hey, I heard you fired another doctor last week. You know, you’ve got quite a reputation among the station’s med team. The Dionysian is the worst assignment someone can be given, or so goes the consensus. The bright side is that it’s usually a rather short engagement. How many have you gone through now? Ten? Fifteen?”
“It’s not my fault they’re so fucking irritating,” he growled. “If they could just leave me alone–”
“When you’re bleeding all over the place? Or burnt? Or you’ve broke something? That’s their job,” Leta laughed.
“Well they’re shit at it. And yet Carthis keeps forcing them on me one at a time.”
She shook her head, swirling the glass in her drink. “I realized I never asked,” she said after a moment’s pause, her tone became a little serious. “Did you ever hire a new cook to replace Amora?”
Fiearius lowered his drink slowly, as if considering his words. Finally, he admitted, “No. Never got around to it I guess. I make most of the meals for the crew myself when I have time.” He cast her a bit of a sad smile. “Keeps me sane.”
Leta found herself nodding in quiet understanding. Fiearius wasn’t the only one who clung onto little things to maintain some semblance of normalcy in the middle of this war. Although she’d never admit it aloud, especially to Fiearius, she kept a rather trashy set of romance novels in the trunk in her room for the same purpose: distraction.
Still, the Dionysian sounded terribly different than she remembered it. It seemed the crew she had once been a part of had, for the most part, dissolved. And maybe it was the whiskey, but she couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Are you lonely? On the ship?”
When Fiearius looked at her in surprise, she said, “I mean, with your brother gone. Corra’s gone too. And Finn on the Beacon. And Richelle and Javier are half your age — ”
“They’re not half my age,” Fiearius scoffed, looking affronted. “Gods, how old do you think I am?”
She looked pointedly toward the streak of gray in his auburn hair. “Judging by this, or…?”
“I still have Rhys,” he went on, interrupting her. “And Harper, she’s good company. Sure, I miss Cy, but he’s doing what he’s gotta do and I’m doing what I gotta do. And we make a point to visit often. And despite what you may believe, I’ve got plenty of friends.”
Leta paused, her glass half-way toward her mouth. Innocently, she asked, “Friends like Dez?” which made him scowl.
“Don’t ask me that,” he muttered sharply, turning away from her.